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Write what you know? Bollocks!

By Geoffrey Dow

Some 35 years ago, Harlan Ellison wrote that “writers take tours in other people’s lives.” He meant that it is a mistake for a reader to presume any story is autobiographical, or that a writer’s “real” self or opinions can be gleaned from a work of fiction.

In recent decades it has become a conviction in some “serious” literary and critical circles that the adage, write what you know be treated as a Commandment rather than just quite sensible advice that a writer pay close attention to the world and people around them. This advice turned ideology has led to a great outpouring of well-written but mostly pretty tedious stories about writers and their suffering.

Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with such an approach to fiction or drama, but there is everything wrong with the insistence that all fiction and drama should take that confessional road to story-telling.

Truth is, most writers prefer to look out, rather than in, and so do most readers. And, looking out, writers must be forever “taking tours in other people’s lives”. To put it in more contemporary terms, they imagine the other.

Or you could just say, they make stuff up. Readers are blessed by the works of Jane Austen and Alistair MacLeod, but we need our Tolstoys and Tolkiens too.

Carl Dow is a writer of the second school, smelting character and story from the mines of his own lived life, but just as much from the lives and experiences of others. In his new post, Thinking Like a Woman, Carl explains one way that the act of creative empathy can come about.


The Old Man’s Last Sauna

E-book edition only $1.99 for a limited time only!

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Publisher’s notebook 001

Introducing the author: Carl Dow blogs

By Geoffrey Dow

Carl Dow, the man behind the BumblePuppy Press’ first book, and the editor and publisher of the online news magazine True North Perspective, has adding blogging to his repertoir. To celebrate, we are offering the e-book version of the Old Man’s Last Sauna for the special low price of only US$1.99!

Click below to visit Smashwords, where you can buy the book in whichever format you prefer. (Or click here to order an autographed copy of the paperback.)

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Carl’s first blog is an account of a singular dinner party, at which Socrates was certainly not in attendance. Clicking here to read The Silence of Sounds. And please check back next week for another!

Carl Dow profiled

The author of The Old Man’s Last Sauna has conducted interviews more often than he has been the subject of one. Late last summer, he sat down with Erica Butler of the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation, the long-time non-profit housing organization which built and manages the Beaver Barracks, a development whose genesis Carl covered in the online news magazine True North Perspective. And which he now calls home.

In short order, the profile explores Carl’s long-time love affair with flying, the history (and future!) of one of Ottawa’s important landmarks and, of course, a writer’s life and work. Read More …